Magistrates are resigning over ‘farce’ court charges that punish poorest

Magistrates are revolting. Across the country, over 50 of them have resigned over the introduction of criminal court charges which have been described as a “farce”.

Implemented by Chris Grayling, who in his time as Justice Secretary seemed to make it his mission to destroy the criminal justice system, the criminal court charges add a mandatory cost onto every defendant convicted to pay for the running of the courts.

The charges are high, set from £150 for a guilty plea. However, the real danger for justice is in charging for fighting a case at trial, with a minimum of £520 at magistrates’ court, rising to £1200 for a trial at Crown Court.

Compassion is not allowed. One magistrate, Nigel Allcoat, who had served in Leicestershire for 16 years, was suspended after offering £35 towards a £180 charge he was forced to impose on an asylum seeker. He subsequently resigned, stating he felt like he was being “investigated for being human”.

Like the cuts to legal aid, this system risks leading to a position where there is only justice for the rich. Those on low incomes are no longer guaranteed legal representation, with a recent survey by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showing 1 in 5 defendants are now appearing in court without a solicitor. Without access to legal aid, and with the possibility of facing such huge charges upon conviction, many, especially the poorest in society, will plead guilty despite knowing their innocence or having a case worth fighting.

As another recently resigned magistrate, Marie Lewis, wrote in The Guardian, “criminal court charges disproportionately punish the poorest in our community”.

She further stated:

Read on...

These charges undermine the right to a fair trial, putting pressure on people to plead guilty for fear of the costs.

Whilst these magistrates must be congratulated for taking a principled stand against an unfair and unjust system, it is frightening to be losing so many decent people from the justice system. Will we be left with just the magistrates who, for example, are prepared to send a man to prison for six weeks for stealing £12.60 worth of food after his benefits were sanctioned?

Access to justice and the right to a fair trial are principle components in any democracy – rights which are being fundamentally eroded. We have to fight these changes and ensure there is justice for all.

Featured image via ministryofjusticeuk/Flickr

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed